Understanding Workplace Bullying; An In Depth Guide
What Constitutes Workplace Bullying? Workplace bullying refers to actions or verbal remarks that can cause harm or isolate individuals in an environment. It may also involve contact of a nature. Generally bullying involves repeated incidents or a consistent pattern of behaviour aimed at intimidating, offending, degrading or humiliating individuals or groups. It often represents the exertion of power, through means.
Understanding Workplace Bullying;
Causes, Characteristics and Impact. Workplace bullying refers to a pattern of mistreatment that individuals endure within their settings. This mistreatment can lead to emotional harm. Workplace bullies employ tactics such, as abuse, nonverbal gestures, psychological manipulation and even physical aggression. What makes workplace bullying distinct is its nature; unlike typical schoolyard bullies those who engage in workplace bullying often operate within the established rules and policies of their organisation and society.
It’s important to note that most of the time workplace bullying is carried out by people, in positions of authority over the victim. However sometimes peers and less commonly subordinates can also engage in behaviour.
Research has explored how the overall organisational environment influences workplace bullying as the group dynamics that contribute to its occurrence and continuation. Workplace bullying can take on overt forms sometimes going unnoticed by superiors but widely recognised within the organisation. The negative effects of workplace bullying go beyond the individuals targeted. Can lead to decreased employee morale and changes in culture. It can manifest in ways, such, as supervision, constant criticism and hindering career progress.
Defining workplace bullying involves considering characteristics that set it apart from incidents or other job related stressors. Workplace bullying is characterised by;
- Repetition; It happens on a basis.
- Duration; It persists over time.
- Escalation; The aggression intensifies as time goes on.
- Power Imbalance; The target lacks the power to effectively defend themselves.
- Intentionality; The perpetrators actions are deliberate and intended to cause harm.
This definition allows for the recognition of workplace bullying, in situations and behaviours that display these characteristics. While bullying often involves actions some experts classify severe incidents as bullying particularly when there are significant consequences. This broader definition aligns with definitions of phenomena such as harassment, in Australia.
Gender; Research indicates that workplace bullying varies based on gender. Women are more likely to be targets of bullying accounting for 57% of reported cases. However men are frequently the perpetrators of bullying behaviour (60%). Interestingly when a female is the bully her target is more likely to be another woman (71%).
Race; Race also influences experiences of bullying. The occurrence of bullying considering both past experiences differs among groups. It’s worth noting that individuals reporting neither experiencing nor witnessing mistreatment also vary in prevalence based on ethnicity.
Marital Status, Education and Age;
The prevalence of bullying can vary depending on factors such, as status, education level and age. Workers who are divorced or separated tend to experience rates of work environments compared to those who are married, widowed or have never been married. Similarly individuals with some university education or a high school diploma are more likely to face bullying compared to those with less than a high school education. On the hand workers aged 65 and older tend to have rates of hostile work environments.
Different industries and occupations also exhibit varying rates of workplace bullying. The healthcare and social assistance sector has the prevalence with 10% of employees reporting bullying experiences. Occupations in services and community/social services report the rates at 24% and 15%, respectively.
Furthermore individuals with disabilities working in Australia face an increased risk of bullying. Attempts to profile bullies have faced criticism for lacking evidence. Researchers suggest using charged language such as generic harassment when discussing bullying experiences. It is important to recognise that workplace bullying involves relationships, among participants including supervisors, subordinates, co workers, customers and the organisation itself. Among perpetrators supervisors are commonly identified followed by peers, subordinates and customers.
Is Workplace Bullying an Issue in Work Environments? Yes workplace bullying is a concern within work environments. In Australia laws related to health and safety emphasise the principle of diligence. This obliges employers to take precautions under circumstances to prevent workplace injuries or incidents. Every employee has the right to work in an healthy environment. The legislation in your jurisdiction outlines the roles and responsibilities of parties in relation to workplace harassment and violence including policy development and implementation. The definitions of harassment and violence typically encompass bullying implicitly.
Examples Illustrating Workplace Bullying; Bullying behaviours can be overt or subtle. Its important to note that the following list is not exhaustive. Bullying may manifest as a recurring pattern of behaviour. Even a single incident, with lasting impact can be considered bullying.
Here are some instances that can be considered as bullying;
- Spreading rumours, gossip or suggestive remarks.
- Excluding someone socially.
- Using intimidation tactics.
- intentionally hindering someones work.
- Physically abusing or threatening someone.
- Unjustly taking away responsibilities from someone.
- Frequently changing work guidelines without reason.
- Setting deadlines, with the intention of causing failure.
- Withholding important information or providing false details.
- Making jokes either verbally or through email communication.
- Invading someones privacy by pestering, spying or stalking them.
- Overloading an individual with workloads or duties.
- Assigning tasks that are below a persons abilities making them feel useless.
- Yelling, using profanity or shouting at someone inappropriately.
- Consistently and unfairly criticising someone without reasons.
- Belittling someones opinions without justification.
- Imposing punishments on individuals.
- Hindering requests, for training opportunities leave or promotions without cause.
- Interfering with belongings. Tampering with work equipment.
It is important to note that identifying bullying behaviour can be challenging since it may not always be obvious and may only become evident when a pattern of actions emerges. It is crucial to distinguish between management practices and acts of bullying.
Providing feedback with the intention to assist an employee is generally not considered bullying. Bullying and harassment do not encompass;
- Expressing differing opinions.
- Offering feedback or guidance regarding work related behaviour.
- Reasonable actions taken by employers or supervisors, in relation to work management and direction (such as managing performance implementing measures assigning tasks). Actions that constitute an lawful exercise of functions.
The Impact of Bullying on Individuals;
Individuals who undergo bullying may display reactions including;
- Emotional instability
- Experiencing anger.
- A sense of helplessness.
- Heightened vulnerability.
- A loss of confidence.
- Physical symptoms like difficulty sleeping or loss of appetite.
- Psychosomatic symptoms such as headaches and stomach-aches.
- Work related anxiety
- Increased tension and stress within their families.
- Difficulty focusing or concentrating on tasks at hand.
- A decrease, in morale and productivity.
The Impact of Workplace Bullying at work;
Bullying has an impact, on the well being of an organisation leading to various negative outcomes including;
- More frequent employee absences.
- Higher rates of employee turnover.
- Elevated levels of stress among employees.
- Increased costs associated with employee assistance programs (EAPs) and recruitment efforts.
- Greater risk of incidents occurring.
- Lower levels of productivity and motivation among employees.
- Decreased morale within the organisation.
- Damage to the image and customer trust.
- Poor customer service quality.
Legal Considerations Regarding Workplace Bullying;
Many jurisdictions have definitions for bullying either as an offense or as part of harassment or violence regulations. Both federal and provincial human rights laws also prohibit harassment based on characteristics. These laws may be applicable in cases involving bullying.
What to Do If You Suspect Bullying;
If you believe you are being subjected to bullying, discrimination, victimisation or any form of harassment;
Clearly communicate to the individual that their behaviour is unacceptable and request them to stop. If you feel comfortable consider having a trusted person, like a supervisor or union representative accompany you when addressing the person. Maintain a journal or diary documenting incidents including dates, times, details and names of witnesses.
Make sure to keep copies of any communication, such, as letters, memos or emails. Report instances of bullying or harassment to the person outlined in your workplace policy your supervisor or a designated manager. If your concerns are not adequately addressed, escalate the matter to management.
Avoid retaliating as it can create confusion and be misinterpreted potentially making you appear as the aggressor. Workplace bullying is an issue that can have consequences for both individuals and organisations. It is crucial to recognise, address and prevent workplace bullying in order to foster healthy work environments.
Workplace harassment can also happen when the company or system misuses its authority, against employees, which can be just as harmful, as harassment. It is essential to comprehend the causes, traits and effects of workplace harassment in order to establish positive work environments and implement measures to prevent and tackle bullying behaviour.
David Alssema is a Body Language Expert and Motivational Speaker. As a performer in the personal development industry in Australia he has introduced and created new ways to inspire, motivate and develop individuals.
David Alssema started his training career with companies such as Telstra and Optus Communications, and then developed Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) within workplace training as principal of Paramount Training & Development.
As an author/media consultant on body language and professional development David has influenced workplaces across Australia. He contributes to Media such as The West Australian, ABC Radio, Australian Magazines and other Australia Media Sources.